Two Wonderful Historical Fiction Books for Middle Grade and Young Adult Readers

Two books that should be a part of any middle school or high school nonfiction collection are “The Life of Frederick Douglass” by David F. Walker and “1919: The Year that Changed America” by Martin W. Sandler. The books are very different; one is a graphic narrative with few photographs while the other is a compilation of photographs, text, and timelines, yet both are books about important topics. They are, surprisingly, books that complement each other.

“The Life of Frederick Douglass” by David F. Walker says on the cover that it’s “A graphic narrative of a slave’s journey from bondage to freedom.” After the table of contents, frederick douglessthere’s a Who’s Who: Frederick Douglass and the People in His Life. There are 18 people, including Frederick Douglass and relatives, owners, and others to help readers identify them before starting the narrative. The Introduction explains how Walker decided to have Douglass narrate his own story. He explains what is known and what is not known about Douglass’ life. The story starts with Douglass telling the reader about the circumstances of his birth. It continues through his long and eventful (to say the least) life to his death. Interspersed in the narrative are short information pages about “A Brief History of Slavery in America,” “Photography and Frederick Douglass,” and “A Brief History of the Civil War.” As with most nonfiction books, there is a table of contents at the beginning, and sources and an index at the end. Mention must be made of Damon Smyth and Marissa Louise who illustrated and colored the strong, emotional drawings that give context to much of the story in the book. (Ten Speed Press)

“1919: The Year that Changed America” by Martin W. Sandler is a book that covers such a wide range of topics about the history of our country that it would take a student months1919 to read and truly digest all of the information contained therein. In the Introduction, the author explains, “The book you are about to read tells the story of one of the most remarkable and important years in the history of the United States. It was 1919, and it has been called “the year our world began.” That was the year that America was recovering from the World War (as it was known then), and the suffrage movement had won women the right to vote. Prohibition, the Molasses Explosion, protests about working conditions, race riots and lynchings, the first nonstop flight across the Atlantic, and more make this book one that is filled with an all-encompassing panoply of informative facts about that important era. It’s fascinating — and not just to kids. Adults will love being able to read this absorbing book. It’s a large book, and would look right at home on a coffee table as well as in a classroom or library. Perhaps keeping it on the coffee table will encourage those around to pick it up and read a chapter. And then another. (Bloomsbury Children’s Books)

Both of these books are superb. Both are appropriate for mature readers of any age interested in history, in injustice, and in how the America of today — the good, the bad, and the ugly — came to be.

Please note: This review is based on the final copies of the books provided by the publishers for review purposes.

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